Collaboration is at the heart of business and community engagement (BCE), manifest in three dimensions: within institutions (across disciplines and functions), across institutions, and between institutions and external partners.
While effective and sustainable collaboration requires initial (at least) face-to-face contact, the vast majority of BCE collaborative work is heavily dependent on virtual collaboration through email, telephone or online tools and resources. In a severely time-constrained and information-heavy environment, it is critical that tools that enable collaboration are simple to use, with minimal risk and mutually convenient. Web technologies, in particular, offer exciting opportunities to meet these needs.
The practice of knowledge transfer (KT)/exchange is maturing into a profession, as testified by the 2007 launch of the Institute of Knowledge Transfer (IKT, a professional body for knowledge transfer) and both KT and employer engagement are strategic government priorities. Both activities rely heavily on effective collaboration, new hybrid skill sets and flexible, interoperable systems, but generally institutional central services and policies such as those related to HR, finance or IT are not designed to empower these activities. Therefore the tools and infrastructure used to support collaborative activity tends to be whatever can be found to work to meet current needs resulting in a hit-and-miss approach.
With all this in mind, facilitating collaboration was designed as one of six core streams of work within the BCE programme, with the aim of ‘enhancing collaboration and provision of service across and between institutions through enabling systems and technology’.
The trialling of collaborative online tools for BCE project aimed to enhance and empower BCE collaboration among practitioners, between institutions, and between institutions and external partners, through the testing and piloting of selected web technologies, tailored as appropriate, in specific BCE collaborative contexts.
Eight trials took place in a variety of different BCE contexts as the table below shows:
|Institution||Within and across regions||lifelong learning||employer engagement||open source software example||FE lead||New to BCE||Knowledge transfer network|
|University of Leeds||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|University of the Arts||Y||Y|
|University of Huddersfield||Y||Y||Y||Partners|
|Northumbria University||Y International|
|Birmingham Metropolitan College||Y||Y||A type of||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|New College Swindon||Y||Y||Y +Community||Y||Y|
|University of Glamorgan||Y||Y||Member of||Y||Partners|